I am coming off what I feel to be a monumental week, and further, what I believe to be a positive predictor for the rest of the year. Last week, the head of my lab and I took to Jakarta, Indonesia to meet with our partners to discuss moving forward with the many projects associated with, CCRES, the entity my research represents along with the University of Queensland.
You will notice above the many logos, these are here to provide a visual representation to all of the stakeholders that will be involved in my work. I will address them all in kind, however, I think it is a depictive testament to the power of collaboration in addressing global issues.
So let me begin the recap of this trip. I apologize preemptively for the length and the excessive images. Nevertheless, I hope this adventurous account is enough to captivate all who may embark on this reading odyssey.
We Arrive in Jakarta
A mere arrival wouldn’t quite do this segment justice. This arrival was shrouded in everything but normal circumstances. A few days before our scheduled departure to Indonesia tragedy struck. An ISIS coordinated blast rocked the city center, just miles from where we were supposed to stay. Naturally, this sent all of the attendees into a frenzy regarding travel and stays.
After days of negotiations we all seemed to come to a similar conclusion— it is irreconcilable to let the works of terrorist and hate- filled human beings distract the efforts of those attempting to make the world a better place. Terror will never govern the pursuit of academic inquiry. Needless to say, off we went.
We arrived in Jakarta and the first things I noticed was the heat. This was no ordinary heat— it was dense, heavy, and suffocating. The type of heat that could only be generated by the combination of geographical location and the second factor I noticed immediately, the people. Jakarta is ranked as one of the highest population density cities on the planet, with 10 million residence and a hypothesized additional 10 million commuters during the workday. We made our way through the labyrinth of traffic (traffic that puts New York and DC traffic to shame) eventually arriving at our place of stay, The Ritz Carlton. I must say as a meager, humble PhD candidate just trying to make his way in the academic sphere, this was the life of luxury.
We got to experience high quality dinners, exceptional service, and lavish amenities such as complimentary massages. The hotel was also remarkably secured and had an underground mall attached via underground tunnel. Despite the work aspects of the trip, what really made experience special were the meals, the views, the company, and the cultural experience.
The few hours we got outside of working were lovely, and those native to Indonesia were some of the kindest people I have ever met, despite being in such a compact city. As extravagant as all of this was, it was not the purpose of the trip and not where we gained the most value. The work done to progress the ongoing projects was where I learned some of the life lessons I won’t soon forget. To ease through some of the logistical details of day one, day two, etc. etc. I will break the work experience down into four main encounters.
The World Bank
Most of our time were spent at the World Bank Jakarta Office. The initiative my PhD is associated with is called Capturing Coral Reefs and Ecosystem Services, or CCRES for short. Our initiative is a research subsidiary of COREMAP-CTI a 52 million dollar World Bank project to help save the diminishing coral reefs. We spent a majority of our time discussing the objectives of the World Bank and how those benchmarks could be met through the academic outcomes of our projects— with the hopes that the content unearthed could be disseminated through the World Bank infrastructure worldwide.
Bogor Agricultural University
One day, we took a road trip up to one of the most prestigious universities in Indonesia, known locally as IPB. At IPB we met with the Dean of the School of Agricultural and Marine Sciences. We formalized a partnership that would provide us some more national support. Fledgling collaborations were conceived that lay the foundation for partnerships in the near future.
An excellent win indeed considering we do not speak the native tongue!
LIPI is what would be known in America as the National Academy of Sciences. It is the government faction that heads all scientific inquiry on a national level. Similarly to our IPB trip, we spent the day discussing and formalizing partnerships in projects. Such that we could co- contribute to building a more evidence- based infrastructure throughout Indonesia societies. We managed to work out some potential overlap through this institution as well. With the National Institute’s immense knowledge and accessibility, we expect to carry out some influential works in communities.
This was one of my favorite days I must say. While I listened, learned, and contributed on all occasions LIPI was special because by some cosmic means I got the opportunity to facilitate one of the breakout sessions that occurred. It was the first— I hope of many— adult moments I will fondly remember in my academic career. This circle consisted of senior members of LIPI and senior professors from UQ.
On our final workday, John and I got to take a trip to The University of Queensland’s local office in Jakarta: an office that primarily oversees local outreach, media, and involvement between the university and the affairs in Indonesia. What began as a casual discussion about day-to-day activities quickly escalated into a possible opportunity in which I would base myself out of said Jakarta office for an undisclosed amount of time to engage in activities such as working with local undergraduate interns, promoting UQ, advancing the agenda of UQ outreach and relationships, etc. It was a lofty conversation and unraveled real-time. Nonetheless, it will remain an interesting prospect to be discussed in the future and has great potential to blossom into another professional development opportunity. You never know.
Final Musings and the Lessons I Learned
There was a lot of work and a lot of culture packed into this week— amongst a lot of tension and a lot of tragedy. Nevertheless, I found this trip to be exactly what I needed to kick off the New Year. I learned quite a bit while sitting around the table with globally recognized titans as they casually discussed where these millions would go and how these billions would be allocated. I learned how business and academia could intertwine elegantly if given the proper space. I learned how feasible it is to impact the world if you have innovative ideas and the right individuals surrounding you.
But I must say some of the most insightful teachings came from the debriefs, sitting around a table with my lab head, John, just discussing who we are, what we bring, and what we stand for. Here are a few of those lessons I’d like to share:
1. No matter how high up you get in the world, never devalue the capacity of people. It is too easy to turn people into statistics, an unruly variable that may only be adjusted by means of policy and institutional change. By no means would I argue that policy is not important, but I will never delineate from my unwavering belief that people on a microscopic level are capable of mobilizing greatness.
2. There’s always another play. When you look at the best strategist, athletes, and overall brilliant individuals you will notice that there are very few instances that are deemed “bad”. There are just instances. Despite whether these occasions violate expectations or shatter foundations, there is always a next step that will orient circumstances in your favor. It is important to think through every event in life with the perception there is a maximal outcome.
3. Always be open, flexible, and interpersonal. This may seem a bit intuitive, but I’ll need to start a running list how many situations have been on the brink of hostile and then subsequently diffused by understanding, patience, and a smile.
4. Finally, never falter even when there has been a bombing around the corner from where you’re staying. You do what you do because you love it and you believe it has the propensity to change the world. Do not let obstacles inhibit your progression.
For those of you who have made it this far and are curious about the title, wonder no more! Curiously enough, the first person I met on our travels happened to be another PhD student from UC Davis. Her name was Amanda and we actually grew up a town away from each other but had never met until sitting in the lounge of a hotel in Jakarta, small world (MoCo strong). Anyway, toward the end of the trip she commended the way John and I worked together. She said we were a dynamic duo and insisted we have suitable names. Thus, she deemed John, Mr. Positivity and me, Obama.
Onward to future endeavors!